Do you use mind maps?  Mind mapping is a technique for organizing ideas by arraying words, phrases, or pictures in bubbles around a central idea.  You then use lines to connect different ideas to each other, creating a map of what is on your mind at that moment.  The point is to avoid listing your thoughts out in linear fashion, which can constrain creative thinking and discourage the identification of patterns.  Remember the mind map I showed you of my notes from the Sloan-C conference?

When I was first introduced to mind maps, they were the handwritten kind.  The problem with pen and paper mind maps, however, is that it can be hard to change your mind or re-organize your thoughts once you’ve committed them to paper.  The old school approach to that problem was to use post-it notes, which you could then move around at will.  But that starts to be a production, and it’s not easily portable.  While I encountered several people who taught the use of these kinds of mind maps (e.g., for planning curriculum), I never knew a single soul who actually used them.

Enter the legion of mind mapping applications for computers and electronic devices!  Suddenly mind mapping became a genuine tool for creativity and organization.  With a mind mapping application, you can drag and drop your ideas to group and re-group them in various ways.  You can also expand and collapse individual branches at whatever level you choose in order to focus on a specific sections and make your map easier to read.

In the professional sphere, I use mind maps in a variety of ways, which I have tried to summarize with (surprise!) a mind map:

Created with MindManager 2012

I also use mind maps in my personal life.  Here is a mind map showing that:

Created with iThoughtsHD

There are many, many mind mapping applications out there.  Here is a website that reviews them and also offers ideas for various uses.  I rely principally on two mind mapping software packages:

  • MindManager by Mindjet.  This appears to be the most robust application for use on the PC.  It offers full integration with the Microsoft Office Suite.  Mindjet has offered numerous successive releases of the software, which by now is fairly mature and offers many features.  Mindjet also provides a user discussion board and access to tons of templates and sample mind maps.  Sadly, MindManager for the Mac is just not as functional.
  • iThoughtsHD.  This is the application I use to create mind maps on my iPad.  It appears to be the most feature-rich tablet app out there, which is why it’s also the most expensive ($9.99), I suppose.  The app was just recently updated with enhanced navigational features that I am still learning.

If you’re curious about mind maps, there are several free, downloadable applications out there.  Xmind for the Mac comes to mind, but there are others.  The tablet apps are all relatively inexpensive.  And although MindManager is kind of spendy, you can download a free 30-day trial just to play around with mind maps and see if mind mapping would be a good tool to add to your productivity and creativity repertoire.